Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Manila tells Beijing to abide by 2002 ASEAN-China declaration, stop reclamation

From InterAksyon (May 7): Manila tells Beijing to abide by 2002 ASEAN-China declaration, stop reclamation

Recent surveillance photo shows Chinese dredgers in the Philippine-owned Mischief Reef.

The Philippines on Wednesday said China's "illegal and invalid nine-dash-line claim" remained the core issue in the South China Sea disputes, and urged its neighbor to stop its reclamation activities while distracting the region with accusations that Manila has breached the 2002 declaration of parties in the maritime rows.

In a strongly worded statement a day after China painted the Philippines as a violator of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), the Department of Foreign Affairs said the accusation was a distraction. It is meant to cover the fact that many countries have expressed alarm over China's reclamation activities seen to permanently change the status quo in the islands, islets, reefs and atolls in the West Philippine Sea.

"China should not distract the region and the international community from the core issue in the disputes in the South China Sea which is China's illegal and invalid "nine-dash-line" claim," said DFA.

The DFA added that the "massive reclamation in the South China Sea is intended to advance this so-called nine-dash-line claim."

These are "plainly intended," said the DFA, "to change the character, status and maritime entitlements of the features, prejudice the arbitration and undermine the work of the Arbitral Tribunal constitited under UNCLOS to hear and objectively decide the case," referring to the UN court at the Hague hearing the complaint filed last year by Manila against Beijing's "excessive nine-dash-line claim."

China has refused to participate in the proceedings of the tribunal, but Manila  has already submitted its Memorial, and oral arguments are set in July.

The reclamation frenzy is seen by analysts as meant to preempt any decision by the tribunal, and moot a possible favorable action for the Philippines. China has poured massive resources into the reclamation, building what are believed to be expansions of its garrisons, an air strip, and other military facilities.

China said recently the facilities are for scientific research, and even invited the United States to use them.

According to DFA's statement issued Wednesday, "the [reclamation] activities also threaten freedom of navigation, cause irreparable damage to the marine environment, and infringe on the rights of other States."

China, DFA stressed, "should adhere to Paragraph 5 of the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) which states that all parties should exercise self-retraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate and escalate disputes and affect peace and stability."

PHL, Japan Coast Guards hold joint exercise in Manila Bay vs. terror attack

From GMA News (May 6): PHL, Japan Coast Guards hold joint exercise in Manila Bay vs. terror attack

Members of the Philippine and Japan Coast Guards on Wednesday held in Manila Bay their own version of the US-PHL "Balikatan" exercises.

The naval war game centered on maneuvers in the event of a sea attack by terrorist groups.

Wednesday's exercise involved a scenario where a Manila-bound cargo vessel was attacked by six  armed terrorists.

Participants tried to demonstrate skills in communication, reconnaissance, and response capabilities to rescue the vessel under attack.

Also, the exercise featured actual combat scenario and deployment of naval vessels in a maneuver to bring the ship under attack to safety.

Involved in the 3-day Joint Maritime Law Enforcement Exercise were Japan's Coast Guard Ship PLH 22 Yashima and the Philippines' BRP Nueva Vizcaya.

Participants to the exercise claimed that Wednesday's war game was unique because, for the first time, Coast Guard commanders from neighboring countries were there to observe.

On the other hand, Philippine and Japan Coast Guard authorities stressed the need for cooperation among Asian countries in combating piracy in the high seas, firearms and illegal drugs smuggling, and trafficking in humans.

They clarified that the exercise had nothing to do with the maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

The joint naval exercise started during the culmination of the meeting of the heads of Asian Coast Guard agencies held in Manila from May 4 to May 6.

Participating countries include Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam Malaysia, and Australia.

Businesswoman kidnapped in Sulu

From GMA News (May 6): Businesswoman kidnapped in Sulu

Armed men abducted a businesswoman in Siasi town in Sulu late Wednesday afternoon, police said.

GMA News correspondent Peewee Bacuño cited initial police reports indicating Guan Kim "Ining" Maujon was abducted at 4:30 p.m. at Barangay Tampakan Laminusa in Siasi.

Maujon was described as a resident of the area, the report said

Farmer dies as ‘leftover’ bomb explodes in Sulu

From GMA News (May 6): Farmer dies as ‘leftover’ bomb explodes in Sulu

 A farmer was killed after an improvised device exploded in Sulu province Wednesday afternoon.

The incident occurred at 5 p.m. at Barangay Baunoh in Panamao town in Sulu, GMA News correspondent Peewee Bacuño reported.

Citing initial police reports, Bacuño said Ibrahim Asirol, 30, was killed instantly after accidentally stepping on an IED while walking.

Police theorized the IED may have been left behind during a "rido" between the Ayub and Salip Sayadi groups on April 14.

Asirol was brought to his home and buried in accordance with Islamic rites.

‘Backroom deals’ progress on Sabah claim – Sulu sultanate

From the Daily Tribune (May 7): ‘Backroom deals’ progress on Sabah claim – Sulu sultanate

Silent negotiations between Malaysia and the Sultanate of Sulu are ongoing, apparently to peacefully resolve the conflict bet-ween the two sides in con-nection with the Sabah claims and other issues surrounding the 2013 standoff in Lahad Datu where members of the Royal Security Forces (RSF) laid siege.

Abraham Idjirani, secretary general and spokesman of the Sultanate of Sulu, confirmed to The Tribune that he met with a Malaysian government emissary in Manila late last March to discuss issues between the two sides.

According to Idjirani, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is also involved in the “backdoor negotiations.”

“The arranged meeting was about the presentation of the Sultanate of Sulu’s aspiration to resolve the Sabah conflict for the benefit of Malaysia, the people of Sabah and the Sultanate of Sulu and its constituents in the Sulu Archipelago, Zamboanga Peninsula and Palawan,” he told The Tribune.

Idjirani refused to identify the Malaysian government emissary citing the sensitivity of the issue.

He, however, branded the talks as a positive development and are in line with the Sultanate of Sulu’s quest for the peaceful resolution of the Sabah claim.

“Of course, this is a welcome development. As we have stated, we are pushing the peaceful resolution of this conflict,” Idjirani stressed.

He said Sultan Esmael Kiram II also appealed to the Malaysian leadership for his son Datu Amilbahar Kiram and his wife Gina Kiram, who are currently detained for charges of waging war against Kuala Lumpur in connection with the February 2013 siege in Lahad Datu by RSF members.

“The appeal of Sultan Esmael Kiram II regarding the royal son and his wife who continue to languish in jail for the wrong accusations lodged against them by Malaysian police was brought to the attention of the Malaysian emissary,” Idjirani added.

According to Idjirani, Datu Amilbahar and his wife even sought the help of the Malaysian authorities when Rajah Muda Agbimmudin Kiram led hundreds of RSF members in laying siege to Lahad Datu. But when armed confrontation erupted, they were charged and arrested.

The armed conflict led to the killing of dozens of RSF members and Malaysian troops.

Idjirani said prior to the Lahad Datu conflict, Datu Amilbahar and his wife have been in and out of Semporna, Sabah since 2007 without encountering any problems with Malaysian authorities.

“The emissary vowed to personally convey the appeal to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak,” he added.

Sought to comment on the negotiations, MNLF spokesman Rev. Absalom Cerveza neither confirmed nor denied it.

“I cannot confirm or deny that information,” Cerveza told The Tribune, adding “there might be backdoor negotiations but as far as we are concerned, there are no official talks regarding that issue.”

Both Idjirani and Cerveza maintained that the Sultanate of Sulu has undeniable ownership of Sabah, recognized even by Malaysia which continuously pays rent to the sultanate for the territory.

NPA guerrillas attack Army detachment

From the Business Mirror (May 5): NPA guerrillas attack Army detachment

COMMUNIST guerrillas belonging to the Jose Rapsing Command of the New People’s Army (NPA-JRC) in Masbate seized almost 3,000 rounds of ammunition, eight backpacks, M-16 ammunition magazines, dental equipment and medicines, when they raided a detachment of the 9th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Cantorna, Monreal, Masbate, on May 2.

Maria Roja Banua, spokesman for the National Democratic Front in the Bicol region, said the raid on the detachment used by members of a project development teram (PDT) was launched at 10 a.m. while the soldiers were busy watching the boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Banua said the NPA-JRC guerrillas were able to enter the detachment without being noticed and stripped it of war materiél.

“The PDT started on March 20, and is still ongoing in the barangays of Rizal, Cantorna, McArthur, Toguran and Maglambong in Monreal. The military unit also included barangays Jagnaan, Danao, Mabini, Bartolabac in Peña, Batang, San Isidro and Bagacay in San Jacinto, Masbate, as well as Barangay Talisay in San Fernando, Masbate,” she added.

Clash with NPA rebels leaves 2 soldiers dead

From the Business Mirror (May 6): Clash with NPA rebels leaves 2 soldiers dead

TWO soldiers were killed while another one was wounded on Tuesday in a clash with members of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Misamis Oriental, reports reaching the military’s general headquarters said.

The soldiers were killed after they were hit while trying to retrieve a wounded companion in the middle of the firefight, a report from the Army’s Fourth Infantry “Diamond” Division said.

The report said troops from the 58th  Infantry Battalion (IB) clashed for 10 minutes with members of the Committee Front 4B of the NPA at Sitio Kapatagan, Barangay Umagos, Lagonglong, Misamis Oriental.

The soldiers launched the combat operations after they were informed about the presence of about 100 armed men in the area.

The armed men turned out to be communist guerrillas.

During the gun battle, a soldier was wounded, but as his companions tried to retrieve him in order to take him to the hospital, the rebels hit two other soldiers who were killed on the spot.

The military refused to identify the fatalities pending notification of their next of kin.

Meanwhile, members of the First IB clashed with at least 30 rebels in General Nakar, Quezon, also on Tuesday. The troops recovered several high-powered firearms.

First Lt. Xy-Zon Meneses, chief public affairs officer of the Second Infantry “Jungle Fighter” Division, said the firefight occurred at around 10 a.m. at Barangay Pagsangahan.

Following the clash, the soldiers recovered an AK-47 assault rifle with four ammunition magazines, an M-16 rifle, an M-1 Garand rifle, three homemade shotguns, a Motorola handheld radio and three backpacks.

Meneses said three rebels who belong to the NPA’s Special Regional Guerrilla Unit, were wounded.

He said the firefight happened after civilians reported the presence of rebels in the said barangay to military authorities.

Military backtracks, confirms MILF tale on Usman killing

From the Business Mirror (May 6): Military backtracks, confirms MILF tale on Usman killing

THE military backtracked on Wednesday from its earlier tale that terrorist bomber Abdul Basit Usman was killed by his security personnel by officially admitting that it was the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that got the Jema’ah Islamiyah-trained bomb expert.

“After our verification, we have learned that Basit Usman entered an MILF area. Elements from the MILF then accosted him so that he can be brought to the MILF Central Committee. However, Basit Usman resisted, triggering a firefight that resulted in his death,” according to a  brief official statement from the office of Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, chief of the Armed Forces Public Affairs Office.

The statement was issued a day after military spokesman Brig. Joselito Kakilala said the Armed Forces was conducting an investigation in order to determine how Usman was killed and which forces really killed him, despite the statement on Monday by the Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., that some of Usman’s personal security, who were after the $1-million reward offered out of his head, were the ones who killed him.

Catapang added, though, that they were still looking into Usman’s killing.

“Reports reaching this headquarters revealed that Usman and five of his unidentified cohorts were killed in a shootout allegedly with fellow members of his group in Sitio Takeneken, Barangay Muti, Guindulungan, Maguindanao, at about 10 a.m.,” Catapang said on Monday.

He added that Usman’s killing by some members of his own security team was fueled by the “tussle for the huge monetary reward that was put on his head.”

“There was an infighting among his bodyguards, because you know, we were able to kill his most trusted bodyguards and he got about seven, when he got killed. But these bodyguards were not the most loyal to him, and there was an infighting among them,” said Catapang.

Catapang said sitio Takeneken, where Usman’s group shot each other was near Camp Afghan, a temporary relocation site for members of the MILF, who voluntarily vacated their homes during the all-out offensive against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in February.

He said that it was MILF members who first responded to the scene and they saw the body of the terrorist and four others, and they also recovered an M-60 machine gun, a grenade launcher and a 5.56mm Bushmaster rifle.

“There was a shootout among them [Usman’s group] and when the MILF heard it, they came to the area and that’s what happened, there was also, I am not sure if there was also a shootout with the MILF. But what we heard is that the MILF also got the firearms of Usman,” Catapang said.

However, on Tuesday MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar belied the story of Catapang and said it was their men who killed the terrorist and four of his men.

He said members of the MILF’s 118th Base Command were supposed to take Usman to the MILF’s central committee as ordered by the MILF’s leadership, but while they were on the way, the terrorist got wary of the reasons why he was being taken to the central committee.

“It was there that Usman did a drastic action that resulted in a firefight,” said Jaafar.

Jaafar said MILF gunmen killed Usman, but the terrorist’s security escorts managed to take away his body and buried him.

2 teens abducted in Iligan City

From ABS-CBN (May 6): 2 teens abducted in Iligan City

Authorities are on the lookout for those responsible for the abduction of two teenagers in Iligan City last Monday.

The two teenagers, identified as Rafael Gabriel Lat and Ellie Marie Deleste, were allegedly in a pizza house in Iligan City when they were abducted.

The victims are children of businessmen in the city.

According to the security guard of the pizza house, he did not notice any of their clients being abducted inside the establishment.

He said the victims may have been taken outside the pizza house.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) said the two victims were last seen somewhere in Pantar, Lanao del Norte.

Authorities are having a hard time rescuing the victims since their families refuse to cooperate with the police.

Video: New images of Usman's remains surface

From ABS-CBN (May 6): Video: New images of Usman's remains surface

[Video Report: New images of Usman's remains surface]

New photos of the remains of wanted terrorist Abdul Basit Usman have surfaced.

The photos obtained by ABS-CBN News are different from those released last weekend, which show Usman lying on his back with his hands across his stomach and his face clearly seen.

Usman's right thumb also appears to have ink, which indicates that his fingerprint may have been taken by someone.

In the new photos, Usman is lying on his side and appears to be in a grave.

The Philippine National Police was unable to reach the place where the body was found.

Earlier reports said Usman was killed in Barangay Muti, Guindulungan, Maguindanao.

''Nobody claimed his body. Maybe concerned citizens buried him… The barangay doesn't know anything about taking his fingerprint,'' said Henry Midtimbang, secretary of Barangay Muti.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which claims to be responsible for neutralizing Usman, denies it took the thumb mark of Usman, who has a million dollar reward on his head.

''The role of the MILF was to serve the order. The victim resisted. He died. After his death, he was left there because the MILF already carried out its role. People went there. It's possible his relatives went there so we don't know what they did to his body,'' said Von Al-haq, spokesperson of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces of the MILF.

The MILF said Usman's body was supposed to be brought to Camp Darapanan.

The group declined to name who shot Usman, but it said it was not a certain "Commander Barok".

According to Guindulungan Mayor Antao Midtimbang, Usman may have thought that he would be safe in the area.

Local officials say they prohibit residents from protecting individuals or groups who are outlaws and are deterrents to the peace process.

Mining firm exec abducted in Tawi-Tawi brought to Sulu

From ABS-CBN (May 5): Mining firm exec abducted in Tawi-Tawi brought to Sulu

The mining firm officer who was abducted in Barangay Simandagit in Bongao municipality, Tawi-Tawi province is now in Sulu, according to a high-ranking official of Naval Forces Western Mindanao.

The commander of Joint Task Force ZamBaSulTa (Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi), Rear Admiral Reynaldo Yoma, said the victim, Nonong Garcia, has been brought to a remote barangay in Indanan municipality, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Yoma said their intelligence officers have been working with their assets on the ground to gather more information on the whereabouts of Garcia.

Yoma believes the group of Apo Mike, a sub-leader of the Abu Sayyaf operating in Sulu, was behind the abduction.

The provincial director of Tawi-Tawi police, Sr. Supt. Joselito Salido, said Garcia was on board a motorcycle heading towards an inn in Barangay Simandagit when he was waylaid by the armed suspects.

The driver of the motorcycle was mauled by the abductors and was not able to seek help from residents living nearby.

Garcia was forced to board a motorized pump boat, which immediately left the area.

According to Yoma, the abducted mayor of Naga municipality in Zamboanga Sibugay, Gemma Adana, was also brought to the same area in Indanan, Sulu.

Adana was snatched in her residence in Naga last April 6.

The family of the mayor said they have not received any call from the abductors about their demand.
They are now worried over the health condition of the abducted official, who has been suffering from diabetes for the past years. She has been taking a regular dose of medicines for her health maintenance.

Yoma said the Abu Sayyaf Group is now operating in the so-called soft-targets in Zamboanga Peninsula, referring to areas where security is not intensified and strict.

Dapitan City in the province of Zamboanga del Norte is one of those areas pre-identified by the military, where kidnap-for-ransom syndicates may probably be targeting.

Yoma said they informed their counterparts in Zamboanga del Norte on the possible plans of the Abu Sayyaf, days before the abduction of the two personnel of the Philippine Coast Guard and a barangay chairman in Aliguay. Still, the bandits were able to penetrate the area.

Yoma said the two Coast Guard personnel and the barangay chairman were secondary targets of the terrorist group. He said the prime targets of the group are tourists and foreign nationals visiting the area.

In the coming months, the military will intensify its monitoring and visibility in Indanan municipality in a bid to rescue the abducted victims in Zamboanga peninsula.

Why MILF fighters may get P6.3-M bounty on Usman

From ABS-CBN (May 6): Why MILF fighters may get P6.3-M bounty on Usman

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels are eligible to receive the P6.3 million reward for killing terrorist Abdul Basit Usman, a military official said Wednesday.

This, after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) confirmed that MILF fighters killed Usman.
In an interview on DZMM, AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala said any civilian informant who does not work for the government is entitled to receive the reward.

He added that the civilian informant may be a member of the MILF, since it is not specified in the rules.

"Oo. Basta, wala namang sinabi kung kuwan ka. Basta civilian lang ang sinasabi. 'Yun ang policy nila," Kakilala said.

He, however, clarified that claimants have undergo screening and validation by the the Rewards and Evaluation Committee.

Usman was killed in an encounter in Camp Afghan in Guindulungan, Maguindanao on May 3.

Video Report: Who killed Basit Usman?

From ABS-CBN (May 7): Video Report: Who killed Basit Usman?

The Armed Forces credits the MILF for the killing of wanted terrorist Basit Usman but a source says a government agent was the triggerman. - ANC, The World Tonight, May 6, 2015

Militiamen recover IED in Agusan Del Sur

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): Militiamen recover IED in Agusan Del Sur

Militiamen, attached to the Davao City-based Eastern Mindanao Command, recovered on Monday morning a New People's Army (NPA) improvised explosive device (IED) and associated equipment at Barangay Magsaysay, Prosperidad town, Agusan Del Sur.

Lt. Col. Eduardo Gubat, Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson, in a statement released Wednesday, said that the militiamen were from the Los Arcos Patrol Base, Barangay Los Arcos, Sibagat town.

Gubat said that the militiamen became aware of the IED's location after being tipped of by friendly civilians.

He said the recovered IED weighs 5.2 kilograms and has two meters of electrical wires and a blasting cap.

As of May 4, there are already 20 unexploded IEDs recovered by the troops on security patrol in the Eastern Mindanao area, 10 of which were planted by the NPA bandit group along roads in populated areas since April 1.

PHL not building structures in disputed features of West Philippine Sea, says DND

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): PHL not building structures in disputed features of West Philippine Sea, says DND

The Department of National Defense (DND) on Wednesday denied reports made by China claiming that the Philippines is building structures on disputed islets and features at the West Philippine Sea.

"If there is one thing we are certain of, we know that they are very good at concocting stories and misleading statements," DND spokesperson Dr. Peter Paul Galvez said.

He added that the Philippines is not engaged in any construction or reclamation projects in any of its territories at the West Philippine Sea.

"They are saying too many things that now they are confused. What they should do is to stop all activities in (the) West Philippine Sea reclamation, dismantle structures and apologize to the international community for the massive environmental degradation they committed.

The DND spokesperson also stressed that the Philippines is not provoking China.

"They are the ones provoking and dragging peace focused nations into this tense situation. All other nations have been dealing with this in a peaceful, diplomatic and rules based manner," he added.

Earlier, the DND said that the Philippines strongly complies with the Declaration of the Code of Conduct between China and ASEAN which was signed in 2002.

Under the agreement, signatories are prohibited from constructing new facilities in the disputed areas and exercise self restraint.

DND chief assures acquisition of AFP armaments done with greater transparency

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): DND chief assures acquisition of AFP armaments done with greater transparency

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said on Wednesday the acquisition of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) equipment and armaments under the AFP modernization program has been done with greater transparency and accountability.

Gazmin made this assurance during the first Senate inquiry into the alleged anomalous procurement of the 21 refurbished UH-1 or Huey helicopters in the amount of PhP1.24 billion.

”To effect greater transparency and pinpoint responsibility and accountability, we have allowed the attendance of third parties in the bidding procedures,” Gazmin told the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

Gazmin also said the DND has even established the Defense System of Management (DESOM) that evaluates the real needs of the AFP as the country’s defenders.

”Equally important, the decision to acquire or procure certain military equipment, platforms or weapons defense system has been the product of thorough, deliberative processes involving the participation of the senior leaders of DND and AFP,” Gazmin said.

The DND also institutionalized the management group activity or known as Senior Leaders Roundtable Discussion (SLRTD) under DESOM.

”The SLRTD every now and then makes the collective decision to acquire or procure certain military platforms armaments or equipment,” Gazmin said.

After explaining the processes of the AFP modernization program, Gazmin requested for an executive session to discuss the military operational readiness and capability gaps that led to the formulation of the AFP modernization program.

”For this, we will request that it be done in executive session so as not to jeopardize the security interest of the state,” Voltaire told the Senate committee.

The panel, chaired by Senator Teofisto Guingona III, granted Voltaire's request after he gave an overview of the AFP modernization program as mandated by Republic Act No. 10349.

Voltaire promised to answer in public all the queries on the acquisitions of the AFP military equipment and weapons systems, particularly the purchased of 21 units of refurbished UH-1 helicopters, after the executive session.

The Senate panel, however, had run out of time to return to the session hall, prompting them to set another public hearing to explain the alleged anomalous purchase of AFP choppers.

”We were given some details that we want to study first so the committee hearing will be rescheduled and we will be inviting those in the acquisition and bids and awards committee of the DND so that we will know their procurement process,” Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito told the media after the executive session.

Ejercito was one of the three senators who filed the Senate resolution calling for a Senate investigation. Others are Senators Francis Escudero and Jinggoy Estrada.

Ejercito said he was not fully satisfied with the DND explanation as to why the department bought refurbished UH-1 helicopters instead of brand new units.

”They said a brand new unit will cost a lot. I think only two brand new helicopters can be acquired for PhP1.2 billion against 21 refurbished units but for me, the lives of the soldiers and pilots are still at stake here,” Ejercito explained.

Quoting published reports, Ejercito cited in his own resolution that the DND procurement of 21 refurbished UH-1 or Huey helicopters was tailor-fitted for a favored bidder.

The contract was awarded to the Joint Venture of Rice Aircraft Services Inc. and Canada-based Eagle Copters Ltd. on Dec. 28, 2013 for a bid price of PhP1.2 billion.

According to reports, the delivered choppers to the Philippine Air Force (PAF) were non-compliant with the project contract’s Terms of References (TOR) and have limited use due to some defects.

The revised AFP modernization program provides that at least PhP75 billion will be used for the first five years of the 15-year period of the modernization program.

The first phase of the program also includes acquisition of warships, fighter jets, air radar system and other military hardware.

MILF killed Basit Usman, five followers -- AFP

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): MILF killed Basit Usman, five followers -- AFP

Three days after the incident, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is now saying that members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) shot and killed terrorist Basit Usman and five of his followers during an encounter in Guindulungan town, Maguindanao before noon Sunday.

This is contrary to their earlier statements, which was issued by AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, claiming that infighting among the group led to the death of Usman and his men.

The military arrived at this conclusion after sending team, coming from the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division, to investigate.

"After our verification, we have learned that Basit Usman entered an MILF area," said AFP public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc.

And when spotted, elements from the MILF then accosted him so that he can be brought to the MILF Central Committee, he added.

"However, Basit Usman resisted, triggering a firefight that resulted to his death," Cabunoc stressed.

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Joselito Kakilala, in a press conference, even went further and said that they have received a verbal report from the 6th Infantry Division units which confirmed MILF claims that it had played a major role in the neutralization of Usman and his followers at Sitio Takeneken, Barangay Muti, Guindulungan town, Maguindanao 11 a.m. last May 3.

"After receiving the detailed verbal report from our field units, we have confirmed that the MILF had indeed carried out the neutralization of Basit Usman. We reiterate our message of appreciation to the MILF for showing sincerity in collaborating with the government in our joint efforts against lawlessness and terrorism in Mindanao," he added.

And when queried about the earlier report claiming infighting among his men caused Usman's death, Kakilala said that this was only an initial report.

"That's why AFP chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang ordered 6th Infantry Division commander Major Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan to conduct a thorough investigation on the circumstances of the death of Basit Usman," the AFP spokesman said.

However, Kakilala said he does not know on whether Pangilinan coordinated with the MILF in coming out with this report.

The AFP spokesman also said they are still to get the detailed report concerning Usman's death.

OPPAP official leads BBL discussion in Bacolod forum

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): OPPAP official leads BBL discussion in Bacolod forum

Undersecretary Maria Cleofe Sandoval of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) discussed the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) during a multi-sectoral forum held in Bacolod City.

“We want to give an overview of the BBL to the people and explain why it is important,” said Sandoval, whose audience Tuesday included about a hundred participants from the Muslim community and the women sector in the province.

She said the BBL has already been certified as urgent matter by President Benigno S. Aquino III, and the Aquino administration expects the Congress to pass the bill very soon.

The BBL is one of the 10 priorities presented by President Aquino even when he was still campaigning and he wants to fulfill this agenda before his term ends next year, Sandoval added.

She said the forum is intended to make the people aware that Mindanao's security issue affects the whole country, adding that based on the series of forums they conducted around the country, may Filipinos have no idea what the BBL is all about.

The forum was organized by women’s groups Pilipina Bacolod-Negros Occidental Chapter, Development through Active Women Networking Foundation, Provincial Council for Women of Negros Occidental, and the National Anti-Poverty Commission-Women Sectoral Council.

Marie June Castro, chapter chair of Pilipina, said the forum is intended to raise public awareness on the draft BBL and its implication to national peace and development.

Signing of closure pact with RPM-P/RPA-ABB seen before end of PNoy’s term

From the Philippine News Agency (May 6): Signing of closure pact with RPM-P/RPA-ABB seen before end of PNoy’s term

An official of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said the signing of the closure agreement between the government and the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Pilipinas/Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPM-P/ RPA-ABB) Tabara-Paduano Group would take place before the end of President Benigno S. Aquino's term in 2016.

OPAPP Undersecretary Cleofe Gettie Sandoval, who was in Bacolod City Tuesday, said the funding requirement for the livelihood assistance, including the settlement areas for the members of the RPA-ABB, are the remaining issues.

During his visit to Negros Occidental last week, President Aquino said the closure agreement is now in process, adding that the OPAPP is giving dividends through infrastructure projects for the protection of 100 barangays directly affected by the armed conflict.

The OPPAP has proposed a PHP279.16-million budget for livelihood and development programs for conflict-affected communities identified by the RPA-ABB Tabara-Paduano Group.

The RPM-P/RPA-ABB Tabara-Paduano Group has changed its name into Kapatiran para sa Progresong Panlipunan for its transformation into a legitimate socio-economic and political organization as outlined by the proposed closure agreement towards the disposition of arms and forces.

Part of the peace agreement is the reintegration to the government of 727 profiled members of the RPA-ABB.

The peace agreement was signed by the RPM-P/RPA-ABB Tabara-Paduano Group during the administration of former President Joseph Estrada.

OPPAP records show that the RPA-ABB TPG has 727 members. Of the profiled members, 607 are in Negros Occidental, 58 in Negros Oriental, and the rest scattered in Panay and some areas of Mindanao and Luzon.